Racking up friends on social media is not limited to teens. Mid-aged adults are also voraciously cultivating impressive online presences, often leaving less time for nurturing human-to-human connections. Strong personal relationships are known to reduce stress, improve happiness, increase self-worth and even improve physical health. But these are not the only compelling reasons to invest in fostering strong, healthy bonds away from the bright glare of a computer screen.
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Real life relationships require more than a “like” button, though finding new friends or building deeper connections mandates a certain amount of gusto. Begin close to home by focusing on reconnecting with a partner, child, parent or friend. Resist the urge to be “best” friends with everyone. That would likely result in many shallow relationships, but none that are deeply satisfying. Put away the phone, tablet and laptop, have real conversations, eat meals together and enjoy activities without technology. Screen restrictions are not just for kids—limit online socializing to a maximum of two hours per day.
Even when one chooses carefully, relationships go through ups and downs. When a relationship is generally solid, work through challenging times. If necessary, seek professional help to learn how to communicate better. But, if necessary, remember it is sometimes better to let go of relationships that are no longer healthy or satisfying. The litmus test is whether the person’s company makes you feel good most of the time and elevates you to be your best possible self. It’s not worth nurturing if this isn’t the case—online or in person.
A healthy relationship does not mean perfection, expecting it could lead to loneliness. Meaningful friendships require flexibility, tolerance and a realistic understanding that another person cannot meet all your emotional needs. Instead, healthy relationships are the product of constant hard work and vigilance. This is true for family bonds and friendship, which arise from the fundamental understanding that the other person should never be taken for granted. Expressions of love and gratitude are critical. Even for small things, like cooking dinner or picking up the dry cleaning. Making sacrifices to show support for the other person (and expecting the same in return) are also of great importance in developing a strong bond.
Online friends are easy, requiring only a click and an emoji to reinforce. Truly great real life relationships take time and hard work, but you will reap boundlessly from these in a way that is simply impossible online.